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Multiple Homicide: Patterns Of Serial And Mass Murder

J. Fox, J. Levin
Published 1998 · Sociology

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Over the past decade the topic of multiple homicide-serial and mass murder-has attracted increased attention in the field of criminology. Though far from the epidemic suggested in media reports, it is alarming nonetheless that a small number of offenders account for so much human destruction and widespread fear. The serial killer is typically a white male in his late twenties or thirties who targets strangers encountered near his work or home. These killers tend to be sociopaths who satisfy personal needs by killing with physical force. Demographically similar to the serial killer, the mass murderer generally kills people he knows well, acting deliberately and methodically. He executes his victims in the most expedient way-with a firearm. Importantly, the difference of timing that distinguishes serial from mass murder may also obscure strong similarities in their motivation. Both can be understood within the same motivational typology-power, revenge, loyalty, profit, and terror. The research literature, still in its infancy, is more speculative than definitive, based primarily on anecdotal evidence rather than hard data. Future studies should make greater use of comparison groups and seek life-cycle explanations-beyond early childhood-which recognize the unique patterns and characteristics of multiple murderers. A research focus on murder in the extreme may also help us understand more commonplace forms of interpersonal violence.
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